BWW Opera Review: Christie's Arts Florissants Brings Venice to BAM with LES FETES VENETIENNES
André Campra's 1710 opéra-ballet, LES FETES VENETIENNES, with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants made its New York debut at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House last week in an utterly charming production by Robert Carsen. Unfortunately, watching this lighter-than-air , co-production with Paris' Opéra Comique seemed like making a complete meal out of amuses-bouches, those delectable tidbits from the chef before the meal starts at a four-star restaurant. Very tasty, but not very substantial for a three-hour tour.
Opening on a photorealistic view of Venice's Piazza San Marco, Radu Boruzescu's effective scenic design proved a movable feast, shifting (by man rather than machine) from one scene to the next. His designs for San Marco captured the city's mysteries wonderfully (along with some stylish interiors), aided and abetted by director Carsen's moody lighting design, with Peter van Praet.
Comedy had been in short display in the era of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who dominated 17th century French music, and Campra's LES FETES VENETIENNES--perhaps more familiar as "The Carnival in Venice"--seemed to making up for lost time. It has a number of self-contained episodes that portray the decadence and intrigue of the festivities leading up to Lent, with an emphasis on fun and games. The Prologue tells of the triumph of Folly over Reason-and that's about all you need to know to understand the three pieces that follow, with their frivolities, mistaken identities and other conventions of this genre.
Composer Campra isn't well-known today and probably would remain a secret outside France, except for the need for Christie and his wonderful early music ensemble to find new worlds to conquer. They did a magnificent job in making a mountain out of the molehill of Act I-making the slightly monotonous music of the first half almost seem worthy of our attention. (The composer turned up the heat somewhat after the intermission.)
The composer did a better job on the dance part of this opera-ballet, however; the delightful company of dancers reveled in Ed Wubbe's choreography, caught somewhere between Baroque and modern, which seemed energetic/erotic/spontaneous and certainly kept things moving. The dancing gaming tables, in the section called "Serenades and Gamblers," was his greatest invention, with soprano Elodie Fonnard a game "Lady Luck" (La Fortune).
The production's actor-singers (or singer-actors) proved dexterous at multi-tasking, all taking numerous roles with aplomb, in their spectacular costumes by Petra Reinhardt. It was hard to keep them straight, which, I suppose was exactly right in this conceit, but soprano Rachel Redmond still managed to be a standout as Leontine (also as Irene and Flore), who seemed to be the object of everyone's affection on stage. I also particularly liked bass Francois Lis in his guise as Leandre, a Don Giovanni-like creation.
The afternoon with Les Arts Florissants and Company wasn't exactly a FETES worse than death--just one that came up short.